October 27, 2010

"Through the Night" is a Show with a Mission


Good roles are hard to come by.  And so over the years, more and more actors have started creating their own.  Their one-person shows are supposed to showcase what they do best. Daniel Beaty, the writer and star of Through the Night, the one-man show currently playing at the Union Square Theatre, does a lot of things well.  And that may be part of the reason that his one-man show is actually a multi-man show.

Through the Night tells the interconnected stories of six black men. At first glance, you might think they’re the usual suspects who so often turn up to represent contemporary black manhood—there’s a preacher, an ex-con and, this being the Age of Obama, an Ivy League grad.

But Beaty sidesteps the old stereotypes and puts his characters through a refreshingly different set of paces. The preacher’s vice isn’t lechery or larceny but overeating.  The ex-con has a steady job and is eager to marry his pregnant girlfriend.  The Ivy Leaguer isn’t a snooty elitist but a supportive Big Brother to an inner-city teen.

Rounding out the group is the teen, the hardworking owner of a local health food store and a precocious 10 year-old.  The men grapple with the full menu of issues confronting the African-American community—hypertension, homophobia, low expectations—and, even when they don’t triumph, they remain positive and determined to do the right thing.  

Through the Night was originally produced at The Riverside Church and it maintains the air of a sermon, right down to the spirituals that Beaty sings.  Bill Cosby, Ruby Dee, and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. have publicly endorsed the show’s uplifting message.  Still, there are times during its 80-minute running time when its exhortations can seem excessively preachy. 

What pulls the show back onto the entertainment track are Beaty’s infectious charm and sincerity. He manages to give each of his characters—not only the men but the supportive women in their lives—a distinct personality and voice. (Click here to read an essay he wrote about bringing them all to life). And he's gotten strong off-stage support from director Charles Randolph-Wright, video and lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols and sound designer Lindsay Jones.

What appeared to be a black church group took up several rows of seats at the performance I attended and they were obviously delighted by all of it.  But the show seems to be an equal opportunity-pleaser because the Asian couple sitting in front of me looked pretty satisfied too.

I tend to like a bit more edge to my shows but even a curmudgeon like me finds it difficult to naysay one that so unabashedly wears its heart on its sleeve. After taking his bows, Beaty hushed the applause and asked the audience to spread the word about the show.  So that’s what I’m doing here.

1 comment:

Tor Hershman said...

The preacher’s vice isn’t lechery or larceny but overeating. The ex-con has a steady job and is eager to marry his pregnant girlfriend. The Ivy Leaguer isn’t a snooty elitist but a supportive Big Brother to an inner-city teen.

WELL DANG IT! I'm now ready to bomb Berlin.